March 22, 2012: The U.S. Air Force has been forced, by budget cuts and bad publicity, to cancel plans to buy ten "VIP (Very Important Person) Suites" for C-130 and C-17 transports. These VIP Suites are metal containers on pallets. The metal box contains business aircraft seating and ambiance for senior officials who could not get a ride on one of the VIP aircraft (business jets) the air force maintains. One of the new VIP Suites will be purchased, for $3 million, while the other nine will not. There are already four older VIP Suites that contain a conference table and business jet type seating.
This sort of resistance to VIP treatment for VIPs is nothing new. Three years ago the U.S. Congress tried to sneak an order for eight VIP (Very Important People, like members of Congress) air transports into the defense budget. These aircraft would cost $550 million. Word got out and the public reaction was quite negative. The order was, for the moment, withdrawn. Congress tried to work out a compromise, by cutting the order in half (to a Gulfstream V and three Boeing 737s for VIP work). But the public backlash continued to grow and the entire order was withdrawn.
The air force currently has two VC-25s (two Boeing 747s for the use of the president, as "Air Force One"), four C-32s (Boeing 757s, "Air Force Two" for use by the vice president and members of Congress) plus about fifteen C-20s (Gulfstream IIIs), C-37s (Gulfstream Vs), and C-40s (Boeing 737s used by air force generals as well as members of Congress) serving, at least some of the time, as a VIP unit.
But with nearly a thousand VIPs (members of Congress, cabinet officials and so on, plus senior department officials of Defense, State, FBI, CIA, DHS, and so on) there are never enough VIP transports to go around. Moreover, members of Congress only get access to these VIP aircraft about ten percent of the time the aircraft are in use and then only for official business. If a VIP aircraft is not available, the Congress member might take a chance and accept a ride on a corporate jet (the media loves to jump all over that) or, in extremis, fly commercial.
All the military services have always had VIP transports, or at least small passenger/cargo aircraft used for emergency shipments of cargo and people. These aircraft serve a critical function, especially in wartime. And that's where the problem really lies. Since September 11, 2001, the dozens of military VIP aircraft have shifted to wartime mode. That is, they spend most of their time moving critical personnel and cargo, badly wounded troops, and anyone or anything essential to the war effort. In peacetime the VIP aircraft spend a lot more of their time moving VIPs (there being few emergencies to interfere with that). But with a war on, the VIPs have been suffering and the $550 million for more VIP transports was an effort to ease that pain. The VIP pallets were an attempt to service this demand more economically. But at a cost of $2-3 million each, even the pallets were considered too controversial to obtain.